Meningitis in your words

Harrison Pannell's story

  • Location: England
  • Categories: Pneumococcal
  • Age: Toddler 1-3
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Recovery with after effects
  • After effects: Co-ordination problems
Harrison Pannell

Harry was 14 months old when he was rushed into hospital. We were told to expect the worst. We are very lucky as Harry is still with us.

He was unwell with viral symptoms for a couple of days. I had phoned NHS direct in the early hours one morning as he was being sick, although he seemed OK in himself as he was chatting away. I was told to make sure he had plenty of fluids and just to keep an eye on him.

A couple of days later Harry seemed to develop a very high temperature and no longer wanted to eat or drink anything. We gave him regular Calpol which seemed to keep his temperature down and perked him up. That day we went to a family lunch where Harry seemed a little worse and was quite sleepy. His aunty, who is an A&E doctor, checked him over and told us to continue giving him Calpol and didn’t find any other symptoms. He refused to eat or drink anything. We went for a walk after lunch where he was quite happy pointing out sheep and saying 'baa'. He was very clingy to both me and his dad which was very unusual for him. Harry slept all the way home and was irritable when we took him out of the car.

"We were told to expect the worst. It was all too much to take in."

When it was time to put Harry to bed I noticed that he was still quite hot and he was holding his head. I phoned the out of hours doctor and explained Harry’s symptoms. The doctor told me that he thought Harry may have an ear infection and to keep up with the Calpol, but to take him to the doctors’ surgery the next morning.

That night I slept in the same room as Harry. He had a really unsettled night and was sick when I tried to give him Calpol. For some reason my instinct told me to turn the light on to see how Harry would react to it. It didn’t really bother him.

I woke up at 7.30am to find Harry was still asleep, which was very unusual for him. At 8.30am I phoned the doctors’ surgery to book an appointment. I put the phone down and went to check on Harry and noticed that he was burning up, his breathing was quite fast and his thumb was twitching. My partner picked him out of his cot to try and wake him, his head flopped backwards and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. I called an ambulance. I could only assume that Harry was fitting and he was doing this whilst we were waiting for the ambulance and all the way to the hospital, even when he was given oxygen.

At the hospital Harry was worked on by lots of doctors and paediatricians. Eventually, after a prolonged seizure, Harry was put into an induced coma. All I remember were the words meningitis and septicaemia. Eventually we were told he had suspected pneumococcal meningitis. He was sent for a CT scan and then sent to the ICU to be prepared for transfer to PICU at Bristol Children’s Hospital. We waited for the results of the CT scan. We were told it did not look good and that Harry's brain looked severely swollen and was damaged. We were told to expect the worst. It was all too much to take in.

Harry was taken to Bristol Children’s Hospital that evening. We went home to collect some things and then my parents drove us to Bristol. Harry was sent for a lumbar puncture. He was also sent for an MRI scan a couple of days later, which showed that his brain was still swollen but not as bad.

Harry was in a coma for eight days before the doctors removed his ventilator. At this point the doctors told us they did not know the extent of the damage to Harry’s brain. Two days later Harry was transferred back to Derriford Hospital, where he stayed for a couple of weeks before we were allowed to take him home just for day visits.

We think that Harry's hearing was OK at this point but you could clearly see that his sight had been affected. Harry lost the ability to sit, walk and talk. As time went on Harry learnt to sit and walk again. His sight came back. He is just learning to eat independently. He has learning difficulties and is still unable to talk, although he has just started to sign. Harry gets quite frustrated and hits out at me – but not his dad – which is quite upsetting. He is now four and due to start school in September, which will be a special school.

We have been told by doctors that we will not know the exact extent of damage to Harry's brain until he is at least seven years old.

Harry did not show obvious symptoms of meningitis, so my advice to any parent is to go with your instincts. Never feel that you are being an over-protective parent when it comes to your child being ill.

Louise Murphy
March 2010